JACKSON, Miss. -- For the dozens of fans wearing New Orleans Saints jerseys with "BUSH" emblazoned across the back shoulders, and who endured withering temperatures at tiny Millsaps College here, the Friday performance of the franchise's latest savior did not disappoint.
Mercurial tailback Reggie Bush skittered out of the grasp of overmatched linebackers. And despite a pair of drops in the afternoon session, when his gloves became saturated with sweat and he finally discarded them in frustration, tossing them to the turf, the former Southern California star generally caught the ball well.
But it was away from the scrutiny of his adoring public, tucked away in a corner of a practice field, where the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner most demonstrated the essence of what makes him Reggie Bush.
Working in a pass protection drill, Bush aggressively attacked the blocking dummy, driving it upward with a classic rising blow, displaying textbook technique several times in succession.
Yeah, the Saints signed Bush to a contract with a maximum value of $62.05 million, including $26.325 million in guarantees, because the guy can put the ball in the end zone from anywhere on the field and in just about any manner imaginable (and a few that, quite likely, are unimaginable to mere mortals). But as much as he loves making big, game-defining plays, Bush, as the relatively innocuous pass-blocking drill reinforced, wants to do all the little things right, too.
"I've always taken pride in those kinds of things," Bush said after the two practices. "Pass blocking was important to us [at Southern California], and it's even more important here. So I want to do it well. I mean, a lot of what I do is just natural, God-given gifts, you know. But something like pass-blocking, that's really something you have to want to be good at. It isn't something that just happens. You've got to work at it and, when you do it well, there's a real sense of accomplishment. I don't know, maybe that's why I like it so much."
So, Reggie Bush as part-time bodyguard for quarterback Drew Brees, huh? Hey, why not?
What a lot of people don't understand about Bush is just how strong the guy is. While he is frightfully thin in the joints, with skinny wrists and ankles, Bush is absolutely cut through the upper body. It had been three months since we had seen Bush in person and, over that stretch, one forgets about his broad shoulders and chest. As he zipped up on one of the motorized scooters that most players have purchased to get around the Millsaps campus, and which they intend to donate to a local Boys and Girls Club when they leave here after camp breaks, Bush's profile is anything but that of a small man.
His profile is obvious in other ways, too, as evidenced by the quantity of No. 25 shirts being sold at the concessions stands around campus. The consummate playmaker on the field, Bush figures to be a huge moneymaker for NFL Properties off it. And thanks to the negotiating efforts of agent Joel Segal and the salesmanship of marketing maven Mike Ornstein, the Saints' first-rounder is personally secure for the rest of his life.
On the night before the draft, as Bush sat in a Manhattan hotel room distraught at having been snubbed by the Houston Texans, who instead selected defensive end Mario Williams with the first overall choice in the lottery, New Orleans officials, in a conference call promised him and his representatives that they would essentially negotiate as if he was the No. 1 pick. And, basically, they did.
The maximum value of Bush's six-year contract is only $50,000 less than Williams received from the Texans, and his guarantees are just $175,000 less. Reminded Friday that there was a legion of misinformed critics who ripped Segal for how he handled negotiations with the Texans before the draft, Bush laughed.
"I would say we played our cards pretty good," said Bush, who was so convinced the bargaining with the Saints would last well into camp that he had to hustle back from a vacation in Santa Barbara when the deal was sealed after three days of frantic negotiations.
He plans to play pretty well in his rookie season as well. Admittedly a bit beaten down by the heat ("No matter how you prepare," he said, "you can't be ready for this, man."), Bush has stayed mentally fresh in his first NFL training camp. He has assimilated to what looks to be a nicely diversified offense. And, of course, as everything from his running to his blocking attest, he is a big part of the diversity.
"Whatever they want me to do," Bush said, "I'm ready."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.